15 March, 2007

US Social Forum - Atlanta, GA, June 27 - July 1, 2007

Hope for the future, I'm convinced, lies in this sort of local, grassroots internationalist organizing:

The US Social Forum is more than a conference, more than a networking bonanza, more than a reaction to war and repression. The USSF will provide space to build relationships, learn from each other's experiences, share our analysis of the problems our communities face, and bring renewed insight and inspiration. It will help develop leadership and develop consciousness, vision, and strategy needed to realize another world.

The USSF sends a message to other people’s movements around the world that there is an active movement in the US opposing US Policies at home and abroad.

We must declare what we want our world to look like and begin planning the path to get there. A global movement is rising. The USSF is our opportunity to demonstrate to the world

Another World is Possible!

Ted Glick:
How will we bring about significant change in the USA? There are a number of things that need to happen, but one bottom-line, essential requirement is the coming together of a critical mass of organizers and activists into a grassroots-based, politically independent, popular and progressive network, alliance and/or party. Given what we are up against here in the belly of empire, it's hard to see how we have any hope of change absent such a development.
. . .

. . . there is an important initiative underway that has the potential to advance a different kind of unity- and alliance-building process across lines of race, culture, issue and geographic region - a process that we desperately need: the United States Social Forum, happening in Atlanta, Georgia, June 27th to July 1st.

Organizing toward this event was initiated by Grassroots Global Justice, an alliance of over 50 grassroots organizations representing people of color and low-income communities in the US. Over the last couple of years, it has been putting the pieces in place to make this major event possible.

World Social Forum Origins

It is significant that the US Social Forum is emerging out of many years of World Social Forums that have been happening in countries of the Global South. Originally begun in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 2001, the first World Social Forum (WSF) was organized as an alternative to the world ruling elite's World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The second and third WSFs were held in Porto Alegre; the fourth one in Mumbai, India, and the fifth one back in Porto Alegre. Beginning with 12,000 people in 2001, it grew to 155,000 registered participants in 2005.

The sixth World Social Forum was "polycentric," held in January 2006 in Caracas, Venezuela, and Bamako, Mali, and in March 2006 in Karachi, Pakistan. The forum in Pakistan was delayed till March because of the Kashmir earthquake that had recently occurred in the area.

Earlier this year, in late January, the seventh WSF was held in Nairobi, Kenya, attended by 60,000 people.

There have also been regional and national social forums in Europe, Asia, the Mediterranean, Italy, and in the USA in Boston, the Southeast, the Midwest, the Southwest and just recently in Washington, DC.

This first national social forum in the US is coming at a particularly auspicious time. Bush, Cheney and the Republicans are on the defensive, struggling to maintain support for their agenda of wars and occupations for oil and empire abroad and, at home, the destruction of basic constitutional rights and cutbacks to education, health care, Social Security and other human needs. Yet there is also widespread, popular dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party and with corporate, big-money domination of both major political parties.

Jerome Scott and Walda Katz-Fishman, leaders of Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty and Genocide, a key group within the leadership of the US Social Forum process, recently summarized its importance in this way:

"The social forum process was initiated by social movements of oppressed and exploited peoples in the Global South; and no one group in the US 'owns it.' Second, the social forum is being brought home to the US by grassroots organizations - with people of color and low-income-led organizations in the leadership. Third, the social forum is a convergence process of all our fronts of struggle; it is multi-issue and multi-sector, and inclusive of all who are struggling for justice, equality and peace. Fourth, the social forum is a space where a broad range of political analysis is welcomed - from progressive to revolutionary.

"This is why the US Social Forum is the place to be this summer if you are a movement builder, if you have a vision of another world, if you want to make it happen!"

Let's make it happen. See you in Atlanta!

from the Preface to How the Rich Are Destroying the Planet by Hervé Kempf:

. . . we cannot understand the concomitance of the ecological and social crises if we don't analyze them as the two sides of the same disaster. And that disaster derives from a system piloted by a dominant social stratum that today has no drive other than greed, no ideal other than conservatism, no dream other than technology.

This predatory oligarchy is the main agent of the global crisis - directly, by the decisions it makes. Those decisions aim to maintain the order that has been established to its advantage and favor the objective of material growth: the only method, according to the oligarchy, of making the subordinate classes accept the injustice of the social situation. But material growth intensifies environmental degradation.

The oligarchy also exercises a powerful indirect influence as a result of the cultural attraction its consumption habits exercise on society as a whole, and especially on the middle classes. In the best-provided-for countries, as in developing countries, a large share of consumption answers a desire for ostentation and distinction. People aspire to lift themselves up the social ladder, which happens through imitation of the superior class's consumption habits. Thus, the oligarchy diffuses its ideology of waste throughout the whole society.

It's not the oligarchy's behavior alone that leads to deepening of the crises. Faced with opposition to its privileges, with environmental anxiety, with criticism of economic neoliberalism, it weakens public freedoms and the spirit of democracy.

A drift towards semi-authoritarian regimes may be observed almost everywhere in the world. The oligarchy that reigns in the United States is its engine, as it uses the terror that the September 11th, 2001, attacks elicited in American society.

In this situation, which could lead to either social chaos or dictatorship, it is important to know what it is right to maintain for ourselves and for future generations: not "the Earth," but "the possibilities of human life on the planet," as philosopher Hans Jonas calls them; that is, humanism, the values of mutual respect and tolerance, a restrained and rich relationship with nature, and cooperation among human beings.

To achieve those goals, it is not enough for society to become aware of the urgency of the ecological crisis - and of the difficult choices its prevention imposes, notably in terms of material consumption. It will further be necessary that ecological concerns articulate themselves as a radical political analysis of current relationships of domination. We will not be able to decrease global material consumption if the powerful are not brought down and if inequality is not combated. To the ecological principle that was so useful at the time we first became aware - "Think globally; act locally," - we must add the principle that the present situation imposes: "Consume less; share better."

Truthout's Leslie Thatcher summarizes:

However difficult the political decision to "accept humanity's self-moderation" may appear to be, Kempf maintains his optimism in that possibility. He urges us to get rid of several received ideas:

—belief in growth as the solution to social problems

— belief in technology as the solution to ecological problems

— the inevitability of unemployment ("a construct whereby capitalism keeps workers docile and salaries down")

— the necessary alliance of Europe, which embodies a universal ideal and the demonstrated ability to unite diverse states, and North America, "the obese power"

He encourages us to build on existing strengths:

— the public freedoms and concern for the public good that still characterize the system itself

— a mass media which may have "treacherously" supported the oligarchy in the recent past up until now, but which is capable of being once again a vehicle of real information and empowerment.

— the "Left" — which could be reborn by joining the causes of inequality and ecology

— nascent global solidarity movements.


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